A Family's Multigenerational Story of Hope and Recovery

Let's Talk: Addiction & Recovery Podcast
Portrait of multi-generation Hispanic family relaxing In garden at home together

Addiction passes from one generation to the next. But so too does the hope of recovery. This was the case for Judy and her family: Her mother was the fourth patient to ever receive treatment at the Betty Ford Center. Then Judy, her brother and her son later followed in those healing footsteps, sharing a multigenerational story of hope and recovery. Now she joins host William C. Moyers to discuss how recovery gets passed down, and she answers the question, "What keeps you sober after 37 years?"

My family is here to prove it through my mother's recovery, I then got sober, my son got sober, my brother got sober.

0:00:13 William Moyers
Hello and welcome to Let's talk, our podcast series produced and delivered to you by Hazelden Betty Ford. I'm your host, William C. Moyers, thank you for joining us today. Joining for a story of hope, a story of healing, with Judy B. Who comes to us today from Southern California. Judy, welcome.

0:00:34 Judy B.
Thank you!

0:00:36 William Moyers
Thanks for being with us today. How does your family's story begin?

0:00:42 Judy B.
Well, my family's story begins actually with my mother. Who got sober in 1982. And the Betty Ford Center hadn't opened yet and when she had her last drug, she was an alcoholic, but she was a functioning alcohol. What we call a functioning alcohol. She wouldn't start drinking 'til 5. But she had an incident that happened where the family intervened and she decided she needed help. And was taken to the hospital in Palm Springs, California. Where they had an alcohol—they had an alcohol treatment facility. But it was closing down and they told her there was a new facility opening up called the Betty Ford Center. But it wouldn't be open for two weeks. So, Mom ended up being the fourth bed. In the meantime she went to support meetings for two weeks. And was the fourth bed at the Betty Ford Center when it opened. On Day One. At that time I think they only had 20 beds. And that's really where my story began and the rest of my family. Because as Mom went through treatment at Betty Ford, they also many years ago, and I don't know if they have that today, they had what was called Family Week. And they pulled in all of us as the family because it is a family disease. And started teaching all of us about the addiction and alcoholism, actually the same thing. So that's really where my story began. And hers. Through her recovery.

And so it took me, for my story, I went to treatment and I started hearing things in group, you know, as I was there for the week. And my whole family went. It planted a seed for me because I started hearing—as I heard other alcoholic/addicts sharing, I heard some of myself in that story. But then my head would tell me, 'Ah, you know, you're not that bad, you don't—you know, you didn't drink like your mom, oh well.' So I actually was in there and they sent us to meetings. We went to support meetings. We needed to. To stay in the Family Week. And Betty Ford Center was so good to us. They gave us a year, a whole year of aftercare. So the whole family went to aftercare and we met once a week. And for me that's really where the seed was planted. My mother recovered but it was a long haul. My stepdad [chuckles] in the beginning was a typical, wanted to pull her out of there and they were changing her and he didn't like what they were doing. Because it's really a program—it's a program of self-discovery. And but as it turns out, my stepfather ended up later on he loved the whole thing so much, you know. The aftercare that we had. And the treatment, the learning of the disease, and the program of sobriety, he ended up volunteering there. And a few years later he ended up getting his tech license and ended up working at the Betty Ford Center until he was 80. As one of the technicians.

And so, my story then started. It took me three years. Took me three years to really get honest with myself. Trying every way I knew how to, you know, not get loaded, not drink, all the excuses and rationalizations I had. I didn't—I came in probably as what would be called in treatment a high bottom alcoholic/addict. I started using drugs and alcohol. Probably when I was about 14. And did everything. I was, you know, back in those days I was at the beginning of the hippies. So, you know, I did all kinds of drugs and got loaded all through the years. However, at the end of my drinking and drugging, I was using mostly pot only. However, as I got sober I realized I was also going through the cupboard at night when I couldn't sleep and chugging down the tequila. So, it took me really three years. And for me I believe today looking back it was a divine intervention. When I decided I needed help. In the meantime, for those three years, my mother stayed sober. And that's when I put myself in the Betty Ford Center as an outpatient. And that was July 3rd of 1985 and I've stayed sober all these years. For 37 years.

0:05:31 William Moyers
What is most important for you in your own recovery? What's the most important thing that you do on a day-to-day basis for all these decades?

0:05:42 Judy B.
I stay hooked in. I stay hooked in with my meetings, my support group, my tribe with the women, my mentor—in the program we call a sponsor. I stay willing, honest, and doing the work. I do the work. And the work is for me staying spiritually fit. And when I say spiritually fit I don't mean a religious thing. It is a—it's an awakening. I am awakened to the person I—the woman I always wanted to be. Because I didn't lose everything but if you could—but I was dying inside. I kinda had checked out. I really didn't know how to be a wife, a mother, and a member of society. I just didn't know how to do that and never did. So coming into where Betty Ford sent me, you know, all that is where the seed was planted. And then seven years later, my son, who now has almost 30 years of sobriety, he went and he decided that once he got in enough trouble and enough pain, he went through Betty Ford. My brother went through Betty Ford. We've all stayed sober. As a result of treatment. Where, you know, the seed was planted. For me. And for them.

0:06:58 William Moyers
So, there's no doubt in your mind that there's a genetic predisposition to this illness. [chuckles]

0:07:04 Judy B.
Absolutely. Absolutely. And, what I did discover—as alcoholism or addition I know today is predisposed genetically. So is the rippling effect of recovery. [Moyers nods] Because that's—my family is here to prove it through my mother's recovery, I then and you know learning I then got sober, my son got sober, my brother got sober. And, you know, the rest—it's wonderful. I'm so grateful. I'm so grateful to the Betty Ford Center. Because they taught me a lot and they sent me to where I needed to go. And I continue to do the work.

0:07:45 William Moyers
Mmm-hmm. And is it fair to say that you are a double winner? As they call 'em? [smiles]

0:07:51 Judy B.
Yes. I am a double winner. Because my mother's an alcoholic and I went to the other Twelve Step program off and on for three years, you know, until I ended up in AA. Yes, double winner.

0:08:03 William Moyers
When did that lightbulb though going back to that time you were in the Family Program, you were not yet ready to admit to your own dependence on alcohol or other substances, but when did—what was it that caused that lightbulb to come on like it did?

0:08:21 Judy B.
You know, I can't tell you the when and where. I just know that that's why I say it's some kind of intervention. Because at one point, I just decided I couldn't do it by myself. I tried every way I knew how. And eventually I was using on a daily basis, but I used at night, after everything was done, but I just—it just—that's why I can't tell you any specific thing, and I think it was because the seed was planted and when I went to the aftercare for a year, I would hear things that I now know as an alcoholic that I was doing. I could hear the—you know, I was very shy and I had checked out. I heard those things. So, to me it was just a divine intervention. And where I just decided I needed help.

0:09:09 William Moyers
What's harder, Judy, letting go of other people or letting go of substances?

0:09:17 Judy B.
Oh, well, letting—for me today it's letting go of other people. [Moyers smiles] People, places, and things, you know, I'm powerless over also. And that is—letting go of the substance at 37 years and working a rigorous program. Not getting away from it. You know, I know that I'm powerless over alcohol and that by me, my life can become unmanageable, even clean and sober. If I'm not changing—having an awakening, changing my personality through working the program. But the people thing, that can be more difficult because I can't put people on a shelf and, you know, I can—the alcohol I cannot have in the house or whatever, not be around it. But, you know, I have to live, and so we have people in our lives, in my life, and that's—that's the more difficult thing to do that I still work on today.

0:10:09 William Moyers
37 years along that journey, what is different about how you work your program of recovery today then say when you first came in or five years in or fifteen years in?

0:10:21 Judy B.
You know, really not a lot. I just do what I did in the beginning. I have more knowledge as I work, as I read, as I work. I have much more knowledge and I've never stopped. I still have a mentor who guides me when I need guiding. I work with other women. That for me is—working with the other women keeps me working the program. And that's a blessing. To me it's an absolute gift and blessing. Because they keep me doing it. Otherwise I feel like a hypocrite if I'm not doing what I suggest to them, I feel hypocritical. So it keeps me in the program, in the meetings, so I just, you know. I look back in the beginning and I didn't understand like I understand today. And that probably just comes with age, doing the work.

0:11:16 William Moyers
Yes. What was it like, I'm talking to you in the late summer of '22, we're past the pandemic in terms of the massive amount of disruptions that it caused all of us, including those of us in the recovery community and in the treatment community. How did you navigate through that pandemic?

0:11:40 Judy B.
Well, I navigate through Zoom. Through actually through Zoom and the telephone. I've never stopped working with the women I work with and guiding them and being guided. And I still go to the meetings on Zoom. Zoom has been a wonderful way for me to continue my recovery without having necessarily—my age and my husband's age, we have pretty much stayed sequestered. For about two and a half years. And I know [chuckles] I would be halfway nuts if I didn't have what I have in working with others. And so it's been really Zoom and the telephone.

0:12:19 William Moyers
Why is it so important to work with others who are either firmly ensconced in their recoveries, early in their recoveries, or still struggling with their substances? Why is that important to you 37 years later?

0:12:33 Judy B.
It's important to me because it keeps me sober. It keeps me—it reminds me of what it was like, that I never wanna go back to. And it's a way of giving away what was given to me. I have to give it away. There was a woman there for me, and women there for me, when I first got sober. Who loved me until I could love myself. Who taught me the road of recovery. And that's what's so important today because when I'm working with someone else, I'm doing the deed, I'm still doing the work. It's very, very important and I have never in the 37 years stopped mentoring and working with other women. And I stick with the women. I was taught that early on to go to women, you know, to the women—and I didn't understand any of this in the beginning, how that was gonna keep me sober. But I understand it today. You know, because women, we think alike and we don't think like men and men don't think like us. And I'm so grateful for that—my first mentor taught me that. And she was a wonderful woman.

0:13:41 William Moyers
What was her first name, do you remember?

0:13:44 Judy B.
Yes I do! I can tell you her whole name. She was Mary Belle Sharbet. And she had—she was in her thirties, very wise woman. She was in her thirties of sobriety. And she was in her seventies [age]. She was very straightforward. She didn't fool around with this disease. And she worked with other women. There were five of us. She was my mentor for five years before she passed. She and her husband, Dale Sharbet. I'm sure you know of who they are. [Moyers nods] She gave me everything—really she gave me, you know, she backed me up and made me do these things. And I did 'em and I didn't understand why. [Both laugh] But she intimidated me so much and I wanted what she had. She had courage, she had faith, she had strength, she had wisdom. And I choke up just talking about her because she gave me everything! And I go back to all of that today and these are tears of gratitude for having 37 years, for having her in my life. Because I know that it was a gift. For me it was a gift from my Higher Power. To have Mary Belle to guide me. [smiles]

0:15:05 William Moyers
She passed it to you, and you pass it on to those that you work with. And to those of us who are here today and will tune in to this podcast. Is that part of your recovery process to be able to appear here and share as you are today?

0:15:26 Judy B.
[nods] Yes, yes. Absolutely. You know I am typically shy, didn't particularly wanna do this, but I also have been told not to say no. If anybody out there I can help or any other family that can be helped by this podcast, or at least some hope, that's what I'm here for today.

0:15:45 William Moyers
Yes. Well there's no doubt about it that your story of hope is one that will touch others. I have no doubt about that. [chuckles softly] It's touched me! Before we go, tell me why—here we are in this podcast, it will be seen by thousands of people close to home and around the world, whomever wants to access it through the website or on YouTube or however else we distribute it—but at the same time, you're sharing with us today with your first name and last initial. Why is anonymity important to you?

0:16:18 Judy B.
Because anonymity is one of the traditions—personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films. And so, it's very important that I don't break any of the traditions of the Twelve Step program that I'm in today. That's why I didn't wanna use my last name.

0:16:36 William Moyers
I respect that. And yet, it is possible for people to be in that program of recovery and still as you have today, stand up and speak out.

0:16:47 Judy B.
Absolutely. Absolutely. [nods]

0:16:49 William Moyers
And I think that's sometimes the misunderstanding about the anonymity principle, which as you pointed out is a cornerstone, it's essential. To that program. But it does not keep people from doing what you're doing and what I'm doing today in this back and forth.

0:17:06 Judy B.
Yes. To help others, to speak out, to let people know there's hope. That anybody who is suffering from the disease of addiction, there is hope. All you have to do is reach out. All I had to do was reach out. And I had to get to that point where I was willing to do that.

0:17:23 William Moyers
And you've done it and you've carried that message to us today. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to be with us today and to share your story of hope with our fellow travelers at Hazelden Betty Ford. [Judy smiles] Thank you!

0:17:37 Judy B.
Thank you, Bill.

0:17:39 William Moyers
[turns to camera] And thanks to all of you for joining us for this story of hope. Without a doubt, it is a story of hope, it's a story of family hope, it's a story of hope one day at a time that adds up to decades of recovery. On behalf of our Executive Producer, Lisa Stangl and the crew at Blue Moon Productions, thank you for joining us today and we hope you will tune in and we'll see ya another time soon. [smiles]

Want to learn more? Select a Tag to explore a particular topic or browse articles.